SE Queens theater marks its 40th year

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The Black Spectrum Theatre is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend with a gala show at its southeast Queens space that will honor not only the neighborhood’s best and brightest but also a pioneer in black cinema.

Legendary film producer, director and actor Melvin van Peebles will receive the theater’s “Actor’s Award” during the celebration Saturday at the theater in Roy Wilkins Park for his contribution to black artists, including Carl Clay, Black Spectrum’s founder and executive producer.

Clay worked with van Peebles, director of the first major blaxploitation movie “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” during the 1970s, and helped him get his foot into the acting industry.

“It was fitting for our development. He is one of my heroes,” he said.

Clay said he worked on the 1977 movie “Greased Lightning,” which van Peebles wrote, about the black race car driver Wendell Scott, played by Richard Pryor. The Black Spectrum founder said the experience from working on that movie helped him produce his own motion pictures in southeast Queens using neighborhood talent in front and back of the camera.

Clay said van Peebles’ award is just one of many moments of the show that he is planning. Dancer Iris Wilson, who appeared in the off-Broadway show “Fela,” and Jamaica native Tony Chisholm, who has been in several movies and TV shows, including HBO’s prison drama “Oz,” will be recognized for their careers.

Chisholm helped with Clay’s 1993 film “Let’s Get Bizzee,” which was about a group of black youths who organize their peers for an election.

The theater’s future stars will be joining the honorees on stage during the event with performances from various plays, musicals and other shows that were written by the members.

Clay said the celebration caps 40 years of hard work that he and his fellow artists did to bring arts to southeast Queens.

The theater group was created in 1970 by Clay, who at the time was 18, in his parents’ basement in Jamaica and it was an instant sensation. Black Spectrum was able to secure its first location at 205th Street in Springfield Gardens and garnered more support from area businesses and leaders.

In 1985, it moved into its permanent location at Roy Wilkins Park in an abandoned property that was renovated by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For more information on the gala event, call 718-723-1800.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 6:14 pm, October 10, 2011
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